On Saturday night, I couldn’t wait for bedtime, so that I could wake up and watch Paris-Roubaix. I wasn’t too pleased with my alarm when it chirped at me just after 6AM (on a weekend!), but once I settled into this year’s Hell of the North then all was forgiven – for much like during this year’s Milan-San Remo, I’ll happily and boldly contend that we were treated to one of the best editions of Paris-Roubaix in several years. If you disagree, take us on in the comments section below, and as always, please ad your thoughts to our long list of Paris-Roubaix Winners and Losers.
It was a day for Lieutenants as the front group swelled to 17 after a seven-rider bridge made it to the day’s original breakaway with less than 90k left to race. The group included former Paris-Roubaix winner Frederic Guesdon and a glut of potential threats including Baden Cooke, Lars Boom, Jurgen Roelandts, Matthew Hayman, and Manuel Quinziato. As the pavé of Paris-Roubaix tend to complicate chases, that swollen front group had their bid for glory: kudos to Johan Van Summeren, Maarten Tjallingi, Gregory Rast, and Lars Bak for turning their position into fine finishes.
Garmin-Cervelo finally converted their strong hand into a win. They have a knack for getting themselves into powerful race positions before coming up empty when the pedal stays on the floor. After receiving some criticism for their “let the road determine the leader” strategy, Thor was declared the unequivocal leader for the day, and, true to form, Van Summeren’s solo escape did seem designed to force Cancellara’s hand. But, as the race played out, Cancellara’s concern with Thor Hushovd gave Van Summeren the room to solo to the win. Garmin-Cervelo’s been playing poker with full hands lately; it’s nice to see them finally slip a joker onto the table and take the pot. Furthermore, Sep Vanmarcke made a smart appearance off the front of the peloton with around 60k to go, going up the road to be available for support anticipating the Cancellara, Thor, Boonen move. Great to see more smart, strong racing from this youngster.
Johan Van Summeren deserves some additional column-inches. His other Pro win – no, not his last win or his other notable win, but rather, his other win was the 2007 Tour of Poland, but since he’s had a few quiet top-ten Paris-Roubaix finishes while making a name for himself as a superdomestique – capable on climbs and cobbles. Indeed, he’s such a committed teammate that in 2007, Cadel Evans gave much credit for his 2nd place at the Tour de France to Van Summeren’s ubercapable support – this during the notorious period of Evans’ dissatisfaction with the level of Grand Tour support he received with Silence-Lotto. Another winner off the day is Jasmine Vangrieken, who received a marriage proposal and a very big rock from Van Summeren after his victory. That type of proposal would make anybody weak in the knees – am I right?
Bjarne Riis won on the day, but only due to Fabian Cancellara’s superhuman strength – which Canc has a hard time turning into victories without Riis in his earpiece. Canc is more than capable of being the strongest rider of any given day and for that deserves kudos, but I can’t help but thinking that Bjarne feels a bit smug about Canc’s back-to-back 2nd places in races he won under Riis’s leadership. Still, Cancellara was the strongest on the day, if not the smartest. If he had launched his pursuit of Van Summeren a kilometer or two earlier, could he have closed the final :19 of the gap?
HTC-High Road didn’t go into this race with any favorites, but put Lars Bak and John Degenkolb into the big move and had Bernard Eisel in the group that caught Canc, Thor, and Ballan when their attack sputtered; Degenkolb’s attack wound up launching Van Summeren. For their efforts HTC came away with two top-ten placings from Bak and Eisel.
The Tarmac of northern France apparently didn’t like the pavé stealing its thunder, so caused more crashes than its 18th-century counterpart. In fairness, Paris-Roubaix is a notoriously nervous race – teams form leadout trains to get their riders into crucial cobbled sectors at the front and hit the pavé at 60kph.
This is getting to be a common refrain on the pages of Pavé, but if we were on Quick Step, we’d avoid taking a look at the newspapers this week. Indeed, many of Belgium’s favorites came up short, with Boonen abandoning (and his Quick Step teammate and capable underdog Sylvain Chavanel falling victim to punctures and crashes), Vacansoleil’s Bjorn Leukemans crashing out and Stijn Devolder finishing fourth-to-last. Naturally, La Reine doesn’t have the national significance that de Ronde does, but one can’t help but think that Belgium wanted some satisfaction from its superstars.
Again a common refrain, Fabian Cancellara didn’t win second place, but rather, lost first place. Did Thor Hushovd and Allessandro Ballan really mark him too negatively? Or did he react too negatively to their well-deserved marking? I think he took himself out of the race in frustration. Speaking of this marking, Allessandro Ballan deserves a place in the losers column – Thor had a good excuse for not working with Canc given Van Summeren’s potential, but with a weaker teammate in Quinziato up the road, Ballan didn’t have an excuse – except, perhaps, “I can’t.” Had he worked, it would have been a very different race.
Nobody from Katusha finished the race. And, I’m guessing that Pippo Pozzato is so used to marking Tom Boonen that when he heard Boonen crashed, he threw himself into a bike pile on the side of the road, too.
Bike-handling skills. Where’d they go? See also Winners: The Tarmac.
George Hincapie’s equipment. After 6th place at de Ronde, Hinc seemed to once again provide that glimmer of hope to all the believers out there. A mechanical forced him to the back shortly before the Arenberg forest – sound familiar? – and that was the last we heard from him. A disappointing turn of luck, again, for the tallman from Queens, NY – especially since the race was ultimately won by a superdomestique in a manner that could have been done by Big George under the right circumstances.
Thanks to all for tuning into Pavé’s coverage of the cobbled classics. We’ve turned ourselves inside out to provide a glut of coverage, photos, and analysis during this amazing period of racing, and it’s been additionally rewarding to have so many followers add their opinions and insight on our comments pages and during The Feed Zone. We do this out of our love for the sport, and we do this to provide the type of coverage that we wish was out there. We’re quite happy to see that it’s well-received: we’re doing it for you.
And with that said, what were your thoughts about Paris-Roubaix? Could Cancellara have caught Van Summeren if he hadn’t been fed up with being marked? Does he have anybody to blame but himself? Who impressed you during the race, and who earned your Monday morning armchair scorn?